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Take Care, I’m Easily Broken

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Tony isn't the type of person to pine quietly. He pines loudly, makes his interest known to all and sundry, and no one pays any attention because this is Tony after all. He’s not actually serious.

It’s a way of hiding things out in the open, lets him be dramatic and pathetically in love, and hell, who doesn’t love a lover? He’s never had a problem finding someone to warm his bed, but he always gets men and women throwing themselves in his direction when he’s completely besotted with someone else, and he admits, it helps, being wanted, even if it’s by the completely wrong person.

And Steve, well, Steve’s made it perfectly clear that, for him, Tony is the wrong person, hasn’t he?

So when Tony’s not following Steve around, making puppy dog eyes and offering to buy him Brooklyn in exchange for a smile, he throws himself into project after project and loses hours in alcohol and meaningless flirting. It works, even if for every step forward, he feels like he takes two back, crumbling every time Steve frowns at him because he’s running himself ragged.

Steve cares. He just doesn’t care as much as Tony wants him to.

"Tony, what are you doing?"

He winces as the light comes on in the hall and squints at Steve, wishing he could make the worry disappear from his face. Except for the part of him that kind of rejoices in the fact that Steve worries about him and wants to keep doing things, good or bad, that’ll grab Steve's attention and focus it on him.

So, issues. He has them.

"Steve," he says, pointedly not slurring. "Isn't it past your bedtime? Early to bed and early to rise makes a man wealthy and rise—wait, healthy and—you know, whatever. That rhyme."

"I thought we talked about this," Steve says, ignoring the rambling as if he's used to Tony by now, which, okay, but still. "You said you weren't going to drink so much anymore,” he says, disappointment heavy in his voice.

"I only had like five glasses," he says, which is completely reasonable in his opinion.

"Five really big glasses?" Steve sighs. They stare at each other for what seems like an eternity, and just as with everything Steve does, it’s too much and not even close to enough.

Eventually, Steve comes over and slings Tony's arm over his shoulders, turning them toward Tony's room, pretending for his sake that they wouldn't be making better progress if he'd just picked Tony up and carried him—something he'd agreed never to do again after the one time that had led to a cleanup in the hall and a new pair of slippers for Steve.

They don’t say anything for a while, which Tony’s grateful for. He’s not in the mood for conversation, just wants to bask in Steve’s presence, and he closes his eyes as they walk. Well, as Steve walks and Tony stumbles alongside him, not because he needs to—he’s drunk, but maybe not quite as drunk as he's making himself out to be—but because he likes the feel of their bodies bumping against each other, hoards each touch in his memory to dwell on later.

Of course, the other possibility is that he’s way drunker than he thinks he is, which unfortunately has been known to happen, although it’s only discovered after the fact when he’s nursing a splitting hangover and wondering how the goldfish got in his shoe. If that’s the case, then he’s in a lot of trouble, because he and self-control do not play well together, and that’s when he’s sober.

Tony starts suspecting it might be door number two after all when Steve turns but he keeps right on going, mashing his face against Steve’s cheek, which is rather nice in a stubbly sort of way. It’s all he can do not to lick it.

This is the point where he really needs to cut his losses and hide—what had been in those drinks, fucking hell—before he makes even more of a complete ass of himself, but then Steve tightens his grip around Tony’s waist and pulls him in closer, and fuck, he’s so fucked, so fuckety fucking fucked.

There’s nothing in the world that can stop him from inhaling as deeply as he can and then holding it, steeping his lungs with Steve’s scent for endless moments, before letting it out and then doing it all over again.

And while Tony knows he’s going to be blamed for this if Steve figures out what he’s doing, Steve’s really the one at fault, because he didn’t bother to ask if Tony could make it to his room on his own, and Tony’s too drunk not to take advantage of the situation a little, the burn of the alcohol nothing compared to the burn of Steve's fingers as he touches Tony, his hands so damn capable and strong that he can't help but lean into them.

By the time Steve rolls him onto the bed, Tony decides it’s not alcohol he’s drunk on but Steve, and like any junkie needing his fix, he keeps clinging to him, pretends to struggle with his clothes just to get more of those excruciating touches on his arms, at his sides. Just one more touch, and then he’ll let go. Just one more. He’s not hurting anyone but himself after all.

But it’s Steve who finally pulls away, not him, and he doesn’t know why that surprises him, why it always seems to catch him off guard, but it does. He pulls the covers up around his lap and toys with them, pretending he’s not watching Steve move around the room, like he doesn’t watch Steve every chance he gets, his own personal peep show, all Steve, all the time.

"You don't have to keep doing this you know," Tony says after a while, feeling wretchedly sober, which was just what he'd been hoping to avoid earlier that evening. He gets that he's not Steve's type, too loud, too crass, has too much dick and not enough tits, and he's fine with that. Mostly. Sometimes. He hasn't broken down and cried yet or anything, and if that’s not a huge accomplishment, he doesn’t know what is. But he can’t help wishing that things were different, can’t stop wanting things he’s never going to have.

Story of his life really.

Steve doesn’t say anything until he’s standing next to the bed, setting the glass of water down on the nightstand. “Yes, I do.”

He frowns and looks up, but Steve’s face is in shadow, and he’s not quite certain what his tone is implying. He’s actually regretting that fifth glass now.

“No, really, you don’t,” he says lightly, even though his heart is thumping a little faster, and he’s absurdly conscious of the fact that he’s sitting on the bed and Steve is looming over him. “I’m not that drunk,” he tells him, even though he obviously is if he’s admitting that to Steve of all people, “and even if I were, I programmed JARVIS to—”

“I wish you would stop drinking.”

“Yeah, well, if wishes were fishes,” he says, not feeling at all bitter.

Neither of them says anything for a while, and Tony starts getting more and more restless. Steve’s just looking at him, not even with the usual resigned disapproval but with some sort of contemplative expression that’s sort of ominous now that he thinks about it, and it’s starting to drive him crazy. He doesn’t like silence. Silence never goes well for him.

Just when he’s about to start talking again just to hear his own voice, Steve says, “Pepper thinks something’s wrong. She said you never used to drink like this.”

“You talked to Pepper?” he asks, sounding just as horrified as he feels.

“Yes, and she said I had to keep any more alcohol away from you, even if I had to sit on you to do it. Also, she’s flying in tonight, and I’m not supposed to let you run.”

“Pepper’s coming here?” he squawks, throwing the covers off, just to be pushed back against the headboard by one of Steve’s stupidly big hands.

“No running,” he reminds Tony.

“I’m not running. This is not me running. And not from Pepper of all people. This is me strategically relocating—”

“Why’s it so hard to take better care of yourself?” Steve asks, keeping his hand on Tony’s chest, and fuck, his heart is racing. Can Steve feel it? Will he be able to tell with the arc reactor in his way?

“I take perfectly good—”

“Don’t, Tony. Just . . . don’t,” he says, his fingers flexing against the thin material of Tony’s nightshirt, and that—how’s he supposed to deal with that?

“What do you want from me?” Tony asks, the words coming out more plaintive than he’d like, but he needs to know. What can he give Steve? What will he accept from him?

“I want you to be happy,” Steve says quietly, like that’s fair at all, like Tony doesn’t want that, too.

“Yeah, well, I tried to be, but that didn’t turn out so well,” he says, and then looks down, rubbing his forehead. He can’t believe he’s brought up that conversation again, because once, once was more than enough, thank you. Apparently, being upset and drunk is a bad combination, who knew?

“Tony—”

“Shit. I’m sorry, okay? That wasn’t—I didn’t mean to say that.” He lets out a deep breath. “I just . . . I need some time. Alone. Without you—” He means to say “without you hovering over me,” but he can’t finish the sentence. Doesn’t matter though. It gets the point across.

For a second he worries that Steve’s not going to leave, that they’re going to have another humiliating discussion about feelings and homosexuality and the things Steve does and does not do. But then Steve starts to move away, and Tony is so damn grateful that he feels lightheaded for a second.

He has no fucking clue why he then screws it all up by grabbing Steve's wrist. It’s a moment of weakness in a long string of them, and he lets go as quickly as he can, but the damage is already done.

He can tell Steve’s staring down at him, but he refuses to look up, thinks, shit, shit, and wishes Steve would just go already. He doesn’t want to have this talk again, doesn’t need to be told it’s never going to happen. He knows. He fucking knows.

“I think about you. All the time.”

It takes a few seconds for the words to register, for him to understand the tone of Steve’s voice. It’s so completely one-eighty from what he’d expected to hear that it doesn’t make sense at first.

When he looks up, Steve isn’t watching him anymore, is looking down at his hands, rubbing the wrist Tony had held a moment ago.

“What did you say?” Tony asks weakly.

Steve sighs and sits down on the bed next to him. “I’m not—I can’t make any promises, Tony. But it’s been weeks, and I . . . .”

“You what?” he asks and shoves the hope down where it belongs.

“Can we . . . what if we try? Just, try it out and see?” Steve asks with a blend of courage and naiveté, willing to throw himself into the fray for a good cause—or, in this case, Tony—without fully understanding the repercussions.

It means something, he knows, that Steve would be willing to do this for him, something that makes his heart swell and ache, and he wants . . . oh, the things he wants.

But he knows better. It’ll never work. And realistically? All it really means is that Tony is capable of driving a straight man crazy enough to give homosexuality a try just to—

“Stop thinking, will you? Stop analyzing everything and let me—”

He flinches when Steve leans forward and mashes their lips together, knocks his head against the headboard and stares. As far as first kisses go, it’s really kind of horrible, except . . .

Except.

He cards his fingers into Steve’s hair, tilts his head and lets his eyes close. He’s not going to be that guy, the one who blows his drunken best friend and then spends the rest of his life regretting it, because they’re not best friends anymore, and all he has left is the recollection of something furtive and dirty. And okay, maybe that metaphor doesn’t work here since he’s the drunken one and Steve is never anything but stone-cold sober, but the idea’s the same. Steve matters too much to him for him to lose over this. He’s not going to take it further than a kiss.

Never mind that it’s more than he’d thought he’d ever have.

His palm grazes Steve’s cheek, stubble tickling his skin. Steve’s hair slides through his fingers, still the tiniest bit damp from a late shower, and he’s so warm. Steve is so warm.

Tony brushes his lips over Steve’s, once, twice, licks at his lower lip just to feel the fullness of it against his tongue, another memory to linger over later. He can hear Steve swallow, and fuck, he wants to taste that, wants to put his mouth on Steve’s throat and leave marks that announce to the world that Steve’s taken. It nearly kills him when Steve’s mouth opens slightly, when he feels the unsteady puff of breath and knows that’s because of him. It’d be so easy to deepen the kiss, and he’s always been one for immediate gratification, willing to pay the price later, whatever it might be.

But not this time.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, Tony forgot that kissing is a two-person affair, because even as he starts to pull back, Steve grabs his shirt and drags him back down. Apparently, Steve has no such reservation about slipping him tongue. Which . . . fuck his life. It’s bad enough that he would’ve relived a chaste kiss again and again and again in the days to come. How much worse will it be to remember passion?

It makes him wonder, how many memories are too many? How many before he collapses under the weight of them?

“What are you doing?” Tony gasps when he finally jerks free, and he would never have thought he’d be fighting to get out of his bed when Steve was in it, but why is he surprised that his life has become one huge cosmic joke?

“You’re my best friend,” Steve says, looking just as wild as Tony feels with hair sticking up all over the place and flushed cheeks.

“I know,” Tony groans, shutting his eyes because he doesn’t know what he’ll see in Steve’s face, but he couldn’t stand it if it were pity. “You don’t need to repeat—”

“That’s not what I meant!” Steve hits the headboard with the flat of his hand, the sound making Tony jump. “I told you, I can’t stop thinking about you, Tony! I can’t get you out of my head. I want to try—”

“You can’t force yourself to—”

“Why not? Why not?” Steve says, looking wrecked, like Tony’s the one with all the power. “I already love you—”

Don’t,” Tony says, and it’s a warning almost. He feels gutted. “Don’t say that.”

“It shouldn’t matter if you’re a girl or a, a boy. Bodies are just . . . they don’t change who you are inside. I know that. Better than most people.”

“It’s not the same thing, Steve! You’ve always had the heart of a hero, serum or no serum. But my body’s never going to change! What happens when you discover that it does matter? Like you said, you can’t offer any promises. What happens if we try and you can’t do it? Do you have any idea what that’ll do to me? To have you and then—” He can’t finish the sentence. Just the thought makes him sick.

“Tony—”

“Get out,” he says, covering his eyes with his hand. “I can’t do this right now.”

“But—”

"Please."

"Tony, I—”

Please.”

It takes a long time for Steve to leave, forever it seems. Forever.

But eventually he goes.

-----

He flies to his house in Malibu that night, right after Pepper comes in, takes one look at him and says, “Oh, Tony.”

He spends the next three days drunk, makes it four just for the hell of it. Maybe it's over the top, but he's never been known for his sense of restraint. He deserves it anyway. It's his last farewell to loving Steve.

On the surface, it seems like everything he’s wanted: Steve coming to him, willing to be with him, saying he loves him.

If only it were that easy.

Steve’s not gay, not even bi, and the reason Tony knows this is because Steve himself told him so, which means either Steve was lying to Tony then, or he’s lying to himself now.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the answer is.

He can’t even blame Steve for it, since it’s his fault in the first place. With the way he’s been moping around, throwing himself at Steve, how can he be surprised that Steve feels responsible enough, guilty enough, to make some sort of . . . sacrifice on the altar of homosexuality as it were? Like he’d said, they’re the best of friends. What haven’t they done for each other?

So he’s going to put a stop to it. If Steve’s willing to kiss him for the sake of their friendship, then Tony can learn not to love him.

Or at the very least, he can fake it enough to convince not only Steve but himself as well. Steve doesn’t know the first thing about love. It’s better this way.

A month goes by before he sees Steve again. He has offices all over the world, and he checks up on all of them. Fury’s not happy about it, but then when is he ever happy with Tony, and while Pepper tries to bring up the whole situation a few times, if there’s one thing Tony’s good at, it’s deflection, so that takes care of that.

He’s perfectly fine with . . .

He’s alright with . . .

He can deal with . . .

Okay, so shit happens. You keep going.

Seeing Steve again is still a shock, even though he’s ready for it, i.e., it’s more like getting punched in the gut rather than having shrapnel tear through his heart. Thankfully, he’s not in costume. Tony’s not sure he could handle seeing Steve in skintight leather after a month without.

It happens while he’s in the middle of saying goodbye to Claudia, a friend of his whom he’d met up with while he was in London. She’d only been in England for a conference, so he’d brought her back to New York with him late last night, insisting she stay over and make the two hour drive to her house in the morning.

He catches a glimpse of Steve through the window as she kisses him sweetly, and he knows what it must look like. He can’t say he’s not slightly grateful for the show they’re putting on all things considered.

“Don’t be a stranger, Tony,” she says fondly.

“I won’t.”

“And thanks again for everything.”

“My pleasure as always, Claudia,” he says, bringing her hand to his lips.

He closes the car door once she’s settled and waves at Happy, knowing he’ll take care of her. It’s just good manners, he tells himself, that keeps him outside to watch them drive off. Good manners and the millions of butterflies currently lodged in his stomach. He takes a deep, fortifying breath before walking back inside the mansion where Steve’s waiting for him.

“Hey Steve,” he says as he breezes by him toward the kitchen. “Long time no see.”

“Tony.”

It’s a challenge to keep walking when he hears the way Steve says his name. He does it though and prays someone else will show up, because it looks like Steve isn’t going to do the right thing and pretend none of this ever happened. Tony totally doesn’t understand how Steve can be so ignorant of the way things are supposed to go down.

“I missed you.”

Fuck.

He does stop then, although he keeps his back to him. How can he—why is Steve saying that? He was gone a month, a damn month, and with three little words, Steve has him feeling the same as if he’d never left.

“Don’t do this,” Tony says, but Steve grabs his wrist and pulls, and Tony follows, of course he does, all the shields he’s erected crumbling around him.

He doesn’t know where Steve ends up taking them, because it’s not their surroundings he’s looking at but Steve’s face, blue eyes sad but determined, mouth set in a firm line. He seems worn-out, gorgeous as always but like he’s fraying at the ends. Because of Tony?

Unlikely.

“You left,” Steve says, and his grip tightens like he’s ready to keep Tony from doing it again.

“I had business—”

“I didn’t mean to make you leave,” Steve says right over him, not bothering to pay attention to the lie.

“What are you talking about?” Tony asks, looking away and trying to laugh. “It wasn’t because of—”

“I thought about following you,” Steve says, and he’s not listening to him at all, just keeps staring at him like he has all the answers. How screwed are they both if that’s actually true? “The only reason I didn’t was that I was trying to respect your decision. If I couldn’t give you what you wanted, then I could at least give you what you’d asked for.”

“Steve, there’s no reason to—”

“But I missed you, Tony. I missed you every . . . damn . . . day,” he says, the words falling like stones from his lips.

“Steve,” he sighs, and he should be annoyed by the way Steve keeps talking over him, but he’s just tired.

“Pepper at least would call me. She said you weren’t any better off.”

“I was fine,” he protests automatically, but he’s not fooling anyone.

“When she told me you were coming home yesterday, I felt . . . Pepper didn’t tell me you were bringing someone else with you,” Steve says hoarsely.

“She’s just a friend,” he admits, and it’s too soft, too intimate. A month is no time at all. He’s so screwed.

Steve steps closer until Tony has to tilt his head back to keep eye contact, until they’re barely inches away, and it’s dizzying being this near him again.

“Is she? I don’t even have the right to ask, and that kills me, Tony,” Steve says, the hold on Tony’s arm almost painful. “It’s not fair to you, you’re right, I know it’s not. But let me try, Tony, let me try.”

How’s he supposed to respond to that? How’s he supposed to say no to Steve—and he should, he damn well knows he should—when he’s never been able to say no to him? When he wants it so fucking much?

But Steve doesn’t give him the chance to say no, to say anything at all. He enfolds him in his arms and kisses him like he expects to get pushed away and has to take what he can get for as long as he can get it. And that’s what finally breaks Tony, because he knows that feeling, knows it all too well, and he’d do anything to spare Steve that, even if that means he’s the one enduring it instead.

It’s a relief to surrender, to hold Steve as tightly as he wants. He’s going to regret this later, there’s no way he won’t, but if he’s already going to hell, then he should at least get to enjoy the ride down.

And he does, the shift of Steve's muscles, the strength underneath his hands, he enjoys it too much really, but then he'd known he would. It’s Steve after all.

He doesn’t know what Steve’s feeling, though. Steve keeps looking at him, doesn’t try to shut his eyes and imagine he’s with someone else, just looks and looks as his hands stroke up and down Tony’s back. He’s not hard as far as Tony can tell, but there’s a certain edge to his kisses that implies he’s not completed unaffected either, but . . .

It’s not rejection that hurts the most, it’s hope. And Steve, Steve keeps hurting him over and over again.

He lets Steve tug him toward the bed, lifting the corner of his mouth in some facsimile of a smile, and lies on his side, facing him. It’d probably be easier on the both of them if Tony were willing to initiate something; he’s never been the type to sit back and wait for things to happen, and who knows how much experience Steve has in this type of thing. But to be honest, Tony’s not interested in making things easier.

Could he get Steve off? Sure. He knows enough tricks that he could do that. Would it make Steve want to do it again? Possibly. Would it make him want to be with Tony? For a while maybe. At least until the novelty runs out. Would it make Steve love him, fall in love with him?

No. No, it won’t.

“Can I touch you?” Steve asks quietly, and how is that a legitimate question? Tony wouldn’t be there if he had the ability to deny him anything.

He has to clear his throat before he can respond, and his voice is rough when he says, “Wherever you want.”

Steve strokes his fingers over his chest, tracing over the curve of the arc reactor and wandering from shoulder to shoulder before hesitantly going lower. Tony’s shirt is rucked up enough that a sliver of skin is showing, and he sucks in a breath as Steve reaches it, fingertips moving back and forth, back and forth.

He glances up to gauge Steve’s expression, but he’s not giving much away. There’s some nervousness there, but as Steve catches him looking, even that disappears.

“You don’t have to do this, you know.”

“I want to,” Steve says, and he slides his hand completely under the shirt, making Tony shiver.

Tony honestly doesn’t know if they’re playing a game of Gay Chicken or what, but he gradually settles back down, one tense muscle at a time, and Steve responds by pressing his hand more firmly against his stomach as he leans forward to kiss him.

He lets Steve explore for a long time, his fingers twitching with the urge to reciprocate but he keeps to Steve’s arm, his shoulder, to the back of his neck and hair. If it were up to Tony, he’d be happily choking on Steve’s cock by now, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? It’s not up to him, it’s up to Steve, and no matter how much Tony wants this, he can’t stop thinking about Steve’s meandering touches and what his reaction is going to be when—if—he gets below the belt.

“Stop thinking,” Steve whispers, and really, that should be enough warning for Tony considering the last time Steve’d said that had been when the whole mess started, but he’s completely taken by surprise by the hand Steve shoves down his boxers, and okay, brain, what brain?

Steve hasn’t undone his slacks, so everything’s constricted, his waistband digging into his back, Steve’s arm flush against his chest in a way that’s not comfortable for either of them, but none of it matters, because Steve’s not being tentative at all right now, his kisses turned fierce, his grip tight and demanding.

Tony doesn’t make a conscious choice to get some of his own groping in, but he needs something to hold onto, and with the way they’re rushing along suddenly, Steve’s cock seems like just the thing. Steve’s having none of it, however, and it’s pathetically easy for him to roll on top and keep Tony pinned, which is—fucking hell—that’s nice.

It gets even better when Tony struggles, panting, “Steve, c’mon, let me,” and Steve pushes him harder against the bed, his strokes picking up speed as he sucks on Tony’s collarbone.

Tony has a split second to worry that the reason Steve’s not letting him touch means that he’s right and Steve’s doing this because he feels like he has to and not because he wants to—but then Steve shifts, and Tony has definite proof that Steve’s interested, hard and hot against his thigh.

“Tony,” Steve moans, grinding down for one blissful moment before jerking back with a sharp inhale. Like he’s forcing himself to stop. Like it’s too much for him.

Fuck,” Tony gasps, because damn, that’s hot. That’s an image that’s going to be branded into his memory for the rest of his life, and it’s almost enough to tip him over the edge—"almost" instead of "definitely" because instead of reassuring him, Steve's reaction makes all the doubts come rushing back to the surface.

He doesn’t know what to do with this, with the idea that Steve actually wants him back, and he’s not sure he can believe it, not because he doesn’t want to, but because after all this time, he’s convinced himself it’d never happen. It’s like when Loki had nullified gravity for five city blocks. Tony had seen it happening with his own eyes, but he’d known it was impossible. He’d known the world would revert to the way it was meant to be, sooner rather than later.

But even though his mind’s conflicted, his body understands exactly what it wants, and he thrusts up into Steve’s fist, his breath shivering against Steve’s lips. Steve doesn’t help—or maybe the problem is that he helps too much—by saying, “I want you to,” sounding raw and vulnerable.

It’s more than Tony can handle, trying to make sense of the turmoil inside him while Steve’s hands and voice wreak havoc with what little control he has left, and to complicate matters even further, he can’t escape the feeling that he’s missing something, he’s sure he is, but for all his intelligence, the knowledge keeps slipping through his fingers, and fuck

Can’t he have this? Steve’s said he could, and Tony’s already given himself up for lost, and for once, he wants to do exactly what Steve’s asked him to and stop thinking and let it all go away. Why can’t he do that?

And then Steve whispers, “Please, Tony,” rubbing his thumb over the head of Tony’s cock while he presses his hips carefully against Tony’s thigh, and it turns out it’s a lot easier to do than he’d thought.

He feels limp afterward, bruised and sticky and a little tingly actually, too, but mostly exhausted and rundown. Nothing’s changed. Well, okay, everything’s changed, but it still comes down to the same damn issue of Tony being in love with Steve and knowing he shouldn’t, and Steve being—

He forces his eyes open to see Steve’s face, unguarded now, filled with so many emotions that Tony can’t catch them all. Lust is there, and hope, even relief, because Tony wasn’t the only one worried this wasn’t going to work, just the more vocal one. But what freezes him in place is the wariness in Steve’s expression, the way he’s watching Tony so apprehensively, like their roles are reversed, and he’s the one waiting for Tony to freak out and leave and break his heart in the process—

No.

Steve looks away, and that . . . that’s a new kind of pain.

Shit.

He’s never stopped to wonder in all the months that Steve’s been hurting him just by existing whether he’s been hurting Steve, too. But he should have.

He should have.

Tony was right to be suspicious, he was, because he’d been honest and Steve had been honest, and the truth had left the both of them bleeding. Even now, there’s a large part of him that’s saying the smart thing to do would be to get out of there before they do any more damage to each other.

If Steve weren’t so brave, maybe he could do it. If Steve didn’t keep fighting for something he couldn’t even promise Tony his body wanted, maybe Tony could give up. But Steve is the most courageous man he’s ever known, makes people better and brighter just by being around them, and Tony’s not immune. He wants to be stronger for Steve, wants to live up to every good expectation he has of him.

And more importantly, he wants to wipe that look off Steve’s face, because he can’t stand the fact that he’s the cause of it.

So Tony presses his cheek to Steve’s temple and whispers, “I love you,” his voice cracking, and he accepts the shudder that runs through Steve’s body as the gift it is.

He rolls them over, his fingers unsteady as they undo Steve’s jeans, and this time it’s Tony holding Steve close, protecting him, his hand bringing Steve to climax while he tells him over and over again how sorry he is, that he’s here, that this is worth everything and he won’t run away again.

-----

Tony’s never been one for sleeping in the same bed with his one-night stands. He never kicks them out right afterward or anything, but he waits until they fall asleep and then slips away to his workshop until they leave.

So when he wakes up, obviously not alone since he’s drooling against someone’s shoulder, he instinctively jerks away while wondering hazily if he can maybe turn that motion into a roll off the bed without waking whoever it is up. It doesn’t help that he’s on the wrong side of the bed, which always makes him feel tetchy—although to be fair, it’s hard to wake up on the right side of the bed in this case considering the whole bed is supposed to be his side.

“Tony?” Steve says, looking up from the book he’s been reading, his shoulders tensing and his mouth turning pinched at the corners, and holy crap, Steve’s in his bed.

Well, technically he’s in Steve’s bed, but whatever, that’s just getting nitpicky. The point is he and Steve are in bed—together—and now that he remembers them, it’s important to mention that the last however many hours aren’t an alcohol-induced hallucination.

“Hi,” he croaks, and he’s staring, he knows it, but he can’t seem to stop. He doesn’t remember falling asleep, but he’s not surprised the past several weeks have finally caught up to him, but the oh look, there’s Steve portion is a little disorienting.

On the one hand, he supposes he should be grateful he can now cross “sleeping together” off their list of relationship milestones—he’s flipped through the Cosmopolitan Pepper keeps around for mocking purposes, and apparently these are important. On the other hand, he kind of feels cheated he didn’t get to appreciate it at all—even if there might have been more anxiety than appreciation if he’d known it was coming, but whatever—and what do you know, it turns out Tony Stark is a sap at heart.

Whatever Steve sees in his face makes him smile softly at him, which, hey, is never a bad thing, so Tony smiles back, and yes, things are still awkward, but for a change, he thinks it’s going to get better.

“What are you up to today?” he asks, and even though they’re both naked and have recently had sex—and wow, that not distracting at all—he’s not sure what he’s allowed to do. It’d be too weird to scoot closer to Steve now, but he really wants to touch him, but he doesn’t want to pressure Steve—although Steve’s been awake for at least a little while, and if he were going to be scared off, you’d think it’d already have happened by now—wait, strike that last thought, Steve’s not going to run off, he’s not, and neither is Tony—and okay, he’s probably overthinking things, but it’s all new territory for him, and he’s already made several wrong moves, and he doesn’t want to make another one.

He starts to reach over but changes his mind midway and decides to pretend he was just stretching, letting his hand flop between the two of them and waits to see what Steve will say.

Steve’s mouth twitches, but his voice is cautious when he says, “I was hoping to spend the day with you actually,” and he covers Tony’s hand lightly with his own.

“Oh. Well, good,” Tony says, swallowing and turning his wrist so he can curl his fingers between Steve’s. It’s hardly the most eloquent he’s ever been, but it’s all he can manage. “Good.”